The average person changes jobs 12 times throughout the course of their lifetime. That means they create at least 12 different versions of their résumé during that time.
But the trickiest version of them all is always the first.
Indeed, writing your very first résumé as college graduate or school leaver can feel beyond daunting – especially when you’re overwhelmed with (often conflicting) advice on the internet about how you should go about it. More often than not, you come away with more questions than what you had to begin with.
Which résumé format should you use? What should you include? How do you tailor your résumé to the job?
Well, we’ve got you covered! Here’s how to write an awesome first résumé.
Don't have time to read? Check out this useful video below:
1. Choose the right format
The first thing you need to know about writing your first résumé is that there are different kinds of formats, each serving a very different purpose.
For example, the chronological résumé, which is the most common of them all, is used to emphasise an applicant’s employment history. It starts by listing their professional experience in reverse chronological order (that is, with their most recent job first) and is ideal for jobseekers who have a strong, solid work history.
As an entry-level candidate with little to no work experience at all, though, you’ll be best suited to a skills-based résumé which focuses your application around your skills and attributes. You’ll still include your work history (if applicable), but your skills will take centre stage here, offering you the opportunity to better sell yourself by matching your skillset to the job requirements.
2. Prepare the structure
The next thing you need to do is prepare your résumé’s structure.
A skills-based résumé is typically separated into the following sections (in this order):
- Work experience
- Hobbies and interests
Once you’ve got a general structure in place, you can start writing your résumé.
Now, let’s take a closer look at each section:
Your résumé's header should include the following:
- Your name
- Your address or, preferably, general location
- Your phone number
- Your email address
- Your personal website and LinkedIn profile (if applicable)
Don’t include your gender, age, sexual orientation, marital status, religion or any other protected characteristic, as this opens you up to all kinds of potential discrimination. You should also generally avoid including a résumé photo.
The summary section of your CV or résumé is a short description highlighting your professional goals and what you bring to the table. It’s typically around 50 to 200 words long – if you feel that there’s more to write about, save it for your cover letter.
Here’s an example of a well-written summary: ‘Enthusiastic school leaver with six GCSEs looking for an apprenticeship in hairdressing with an exciting and trend-setting company. Possessing excellent customer service skills and passionate about hair care techniques.’
The skills section here is the most important one of them all. Typically, skills are grouped together under relevant subheadings in a skills-based résumé, like ‘Effective Communication’, ‘IT and Technology’ and ‘Commercial Awareness’, with two to three bullets under each one providing examples that ‘vouch’ for those skills.
Under ‘Effective Communication’, for example, you could say: ‘Working in customer service has enabled me to develop and expand on my communication skills. My role at Company ABC involved daily interaction with all kinds of people.’
Here’s where you list past and current jobs (part-time, full-time or seasonal), internships, volunteer work and anything else you’ve done in your professional help. That said, try to only list experiences that are relevant to the job you’re applying for.
Make sure to include the following details for each position:
- Your job title
- Dates of employment
- The organisation’s name and location
- Key duties and accomplishments
List your education in reverse chronological order – that is with the most recent event listed first. That said, don’t mention anything before high school.
Make sure this section includes the following details for each entry:
- College/school name
- Dates of study
- Grades (if you’re still waiting for exam results, you can mention mock/expected grades, though this isn’t essential)
Hobbies and interests
A hobbies section is completely optional, but if you don’t have any notable work experience, mentioning your hobbies and interests can be a great way to win employers over with your personality. Only mention a handful of examples and make sure that you elaborate a little bit on each one, like so: ‘I am involved in the local amateur dramatics society, where I volunteer as a lighting and sound engineer.’
A references section is also optional. If you do include references in your résumé, make sure to seek people’s permission before you start listing them as referees.
As a general rule of thumb, list not more than three referees and include the following details:
- Referee’s name
- Their job title and company name
- Their address
- Their phone number
- Their email address
- Their relationship to you (eg: ‘Family friend of 10 years’)
3. Use the job description as a guide
Remember when you first read the ad for the job you’re applying to and thought ‘I’m going to apply for that!’? Well, your résumé is meant to have a similar effect on employers and make them think ‘I want to hire this candidate!’.
So, how can you make that happen? By copying the language used in the job description, of course.
Now, I don’t mean that you should reproduce the job description in your résumé word for word but rather that you carefully re-read the ad to identify keywords and phrases that you can weave into your document. For example, if the ad requires that the ideal candidate is an ‘excellent communicator’, find a way to brag about your communication skills.
4. Highlight your transferable skills
As your professional experience is fundamentally lacking, your skillset is the greatest weapon you have in your employ. In fact, your skills should take centre stage on your résumé.
You can do this by drawing on life experiences and transferable skills, skills which you picked up over time at school or even at home, and which can be applied to a range of jobs and industries. For example, completing essays and coursework requires planning and organisation. Similarly, revising for exams involves learning new processes and information. The job ad may also prove useful when writing this section.
5. Focus on hobbies and interests
When you’re just starting out in your professional journey and writing a résumé for your first job, it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd and especially other applicants who are at the same or similar level as you. And listing your hobbies and interests on your résumé could be just the leverage you need to ensure that you do stand out.
For example, if you enjoy travelling, you could mention this on your résumé and find a way to show your cultural awareness and that you’re comfortable in new environments.
A word to the wise, though: be careful with controversial and unusual hobbies, like taxidermy, for example. You want to be memorable, yes, but not for all the wrong reasons! You should also stay away from things like political views and religious beliefs, as the hiring manager reviewing your résumé may have a polar opposite opinion, and this can greatly hinder your chances of landing a job interview.
6. Follow an example
A great little trick to use when writing your résumé is to use examples for inspiration.
Here’s a good résumé example to help you get started, which is based on one of our many professionally designed templates:
Explore our collection of professionally designed and ATS-optimised résumé templates, and make your application shine!
7. Don’t lie
Confession time: I lied on my very first résumé. I was worried that my lack of experience and qualifications would hinder my job search efforts, so I decided to embellish a few things, such as my skills section. Miraculously, I got the job.
But just because I was, for want of a better word, lucky to get away with my lie, it doesn’t mean it was the right thing to do in the first place. And it certainly doesn’t mean you’ll get away with lying on your own résumé – chances of getting caught in this day and age are extremely high, what with the readiness of the internet and background checks now a staple in applicant screening processes.
Even if you don’t get caught straight away, the truth will eventually catch up with you. And when it does, you will lose your employer’s trust and, quite possibly, your job. Just look at Scott Thompson who had to step down from his post as CEO at Yahoo! in 2012 after it emerged that he lied about his college degree.
It might be a tad hypocritical coming from me, but I beg you: don’t do what I did.
8. Edit and proofread
There’s nothing worse than a résumé full of typos and grammatical errors. Quite simply, it does the complete opposite of persuading the hiring manager that you’re the perfect candidate for the job; it shows that you’re careless and you don’t pay enough attention to the little details – the very last qualities employers look for in potential hires.
There are loads of proofreading tools available online which you can use to check your résumé for spelling and grammar. Having said that, though, don’t rely on these tools too much – even the best spellchecker can miss a potentially embarrassing spelling mistake which is an otherwise grammatically correct sentence (think: ‘Working in a busty office’).
Enlisting the help of a human proofreader (like a friend or family member) is, therefore, just as important – they may be able to offer you constructive feedback about your résumé’s content and layout, too!
9. Don’t forget the cover letter
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen jobseekers make over and over again is ditching the cover letter.
Despite what some people might tell you, cover letters are not dead. They’re still very much alive and they can prove incredibly valuable in presenting yourself to potential employers as a well-rounded candidate.
Hiring managers expect a cover letter in your application – even if they don’t explicitly ask for one. In other words, forgoing the cover letter entirely can do you more harm than good. Indeed, you’ll risk coming across as lazy and not at all interested in the job you’re applying for, which is highly unlikely to be appreciated by a company.
The only time you shouldn’t send a cover letter is when you’re specifically asked not to do. Otherwise, you should always accompany your résumé with a well-written letter, which should be targeted to the specific employer and job you’re applying for, about a page long, straight to the point and which complements – not regurgitates – your résumé.
Whether it’s your 1st or 21st time round, writing a CV or résumé is never an easy task – but also a useful life skill worth mastering. And the tips mentioned above will help you craft a résumé that makes employers notice you and, ultimately, land your first job.
Got a question about writing your very first résumé? I’d love to hear from you – simply leave your question in the comments section below and I’ll get back to you!
This article is an update of an earlier version published on 15 November 2017.